In JRPGs, we tend to expect our heroes to have to give up something as a trade-off for being willing to save the world. Sometimes, it is as simple as giving up an ordinary life. Once you become a hero, you certainly do not have the luxury of being a couch potato. Other cases might have the hero sacrificing their life. With Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age, we have multiple people giving things up for the greater good. The game is constantly showing players the consequences that can come from doing the right thing. Being a hero is not a glamorous thing. The game has no problem reminding you of the cost of doing the right thing, letting a gut punch linger without offering any sort of assurance that maybe things are secretly okay and not so bad after all.
Editor’s note: Spoilers for Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age lurk below.
This is evident from the moment Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age begins. We see the kingdom of Dundrasil as it once was. Everyone is happy and prosperous. Lots of innocent people line the streets. The queen has recently given birth to a happy, healthy baby. But then, darkness falls upon the kingdom. Monsters invade. The queen escapes with the baby and a young girl. But, in order for the children to escape, she has to sacrifice her own life. The game begins with us being shown that, if the queen had not acted as a decoy, her son would have died and there would not have been a Luminary to save the day.
Our hero realizing his destiny is a constant series of sacrifices. It starts out seemingly simple. In order to become the Luminary and save the day, he has to leave his hometown of Cobblestone. Sure. Fine. Everyone has to leave home sometime. When he gets to Heliodor and presents himself to King Carnelian, as his grandfather suggested, he loses his freedom. He is thrown in the dungeon. After he escapes with Erik, a thief who aids and befriends him, he loses both his reputation and sense of security. Heliodor’s king has labeled him the Darkspawn, spread lies about him around the continent when he can, and has dispatched Hendrik and Jasper to defeat him.
I feel like it is when the hero stops back at Cobblestone that Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age knocks the wind out of a player for the first time. We are accustomed to JRPGs where the main character’s hometown is destroyed as part of the story. Usually, it is a catalyst for the person heading out on a quest. Here, we are lulled into a false sense of security. Even though King Carnelian sent his men to deal with the town, things seem fine when we get to town. It is only when we start talking to people that we realize the truth. The Yggdrasil root in town resonated with the hero and took him into the past. He sees his mother, younger versions of himself and Gemma, and eventually even his grandfather. As he expresses his affection for you and regrets for your experience with the king of Heliodor, he disappears. The truth is revealed. Cobblestone has been toppled and everyone you knew is gone.
It is not only the hero who has to suffer and sacrifice in the name of doing the right thing. Jade is another example of someone who has given up so much for the sake of the party. In the opening of the game, we see she was present when Dundrasil fell. Her own mother was sickly and died, so Dundrasil’s queen was a surrogate mother to her. Her “job” during the monster attack was to stick with and get away with the hero, but the monsters were too much for her. They were separated. He floated down a river to his adoptive grandfather, and Jade found herself reunited with Rab, the hero’s biological grandfather. Now, Jade was a princess. She could have lived a royal life. She chose to abandon it. Instead, she traveled the world with Rab, learning all she could about Mordegon. She honed her skills. She prepared for the trials ahead, even though it meant never having a normal life and never knowing if the hero was still alive. Her whole life, she regretted not being strong enough to do something when she was probably not even old enough to be reading.
Then, there is Veronica. When she and her twin sister, Serena, join the party, the duo makes a pledge. “Bold Luminary, Yggdrasil’s chosen, long have we waited to greet you. We of Arboria swear to protect you. While we live none shall defeat you.” This is not just talk. After reaching Yggdrasil, things go south fast. When you go to get the Sword of Light, Jasper is there. Mordegon strikes the heart of Yggdrasil. The hero becomes a fish. Once you become a human again, you have to reunite with all of the allies you lost. The second to last person you find is Serena. But where is Veronica? You head with Serena to Arboria, working under the assumption she headed there. But, she is absent. Serena can sense where she is, and the group heads to a nearby forest where the two used to play to find her twin. They find her, but only her body. Her staff resonates with the hero’s mark to show what really happened at Yggdrasil. To save the life of her sister and those she held dear, Veronica sacrificed herself. Everything she had went into sending them to safety, leaving her to face the disaster alone. It is heart wrenching and powerful, especially since we previously were experiencing happy reunions with everyone else.
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age is a game that takes extensive efforts to show exactly what being a hero can cost people. Doing the right thing is often not easy. It can cost people their lives, both literally and figuratively. This game understands that and uses its story to ensure players understand it too and constantly see how far people are willing to go if it means making a difference.
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age is available for the PlayStation 4 and PC worldwide. It is available on the Nintendo 3DS in Japan. It is in development for the Nintendo Switch.